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Pop Culture in Tourism Marketing

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    Destination marketing is a marathon. You spend months putting together an extensive marketing plan. Stakeholders are engaged, brands are developed, ads are prepared, content is finalized, etc. - and that’s before the real work of implementing the marketing plan even begins. 

    As a destination marketer, it’s pretty easy to get so wrapped up in the big, shiny strategy that you forget to pay attention to the here and now. It’s an easy mistake to make, but it’s a big one! While you’re busy making plans for next year, you’re missing the conversation that’s happening right now. What are people currently saying about your destination? How are you using that in your marketing?

    Destination marketers need to be prepared for anything at any time. Whether it’s taking advantage of a TV show reference or counteracting some negative press with self-deprecating humor, it’s important to engage before it’s too late. It’s destination marketing at a sprint, and it may just end up being your easiest, but most rewarding campaign.

    Here are a few innovative campaigns that have done just that. By deftly playing the cards they were dealt (some good, others bad), these destinations took advantage of quips, perceptions and pop culture references and turned them into marketing gold.  


    In August, during an episode of the popular TV show Breaking Bad, a reference was made to doing away with a character by “sending him to Belize.” It wasn’t the most flattering reference for the country, but that didn’t stop the Belize Tourism Board from using the line in a creative way. They immediately released a letter to the entire cast poking fun at the mention & inviting them for a relaxing visit after the season was over.

    The timely and lighthearted response drew further attention to the destination. It was a smart way to quickly turn the conversation from a negative to a positive. The phrase “send him to Belize” continues to be used.



    Americans love football. When quarterback Peyton Manning began yelling “Omaha” at the line of scrimmage earlier this year, everyone wanted to know “What’s up with Omaha?” That remains a mystery, but the city of Omaha is no longer a mystery. 

    Instead of letting the conversation revolve only around football, Visit Omaha quickly reminded everyone that Omaha is an actual destination with a fantastic tweet that went viral.

    It’s a small destination, but for a few weeks, everyone was talking about Omaha.

    Sioux City

    Now this is being dealt a bad hand. Years ago, Sioux City, Iowa’s small regional airport was given the 3-letter airport code, SUX. After years of trying to change the sad moniker, the city finally decided to just embrace it. “FLY SUX” became an official motto and even the website was renamed T-shirts were printed, coffee mugs were sold, and a billboard went up on I-29 advertising the airport and the town. 

    As the airport commissioner put it, “It’s better to be memorable than to have three initials no one can really recall.” By embracing the quirky code, Sioux City has certainly become memorable.  



    The Northern Ireland Tourist Board knows a good thing when they see it. In this case, it’s the TV series Game of Thrones, which has a huge cult following. The series is filmed in Ireland, and has become a central part of Ireland’s 2014 tourism campaign. There are already tour packages and driving tours established around the show’s various filming sites. We can’t wait to see what they will come up with next - we’re hoping a branded ad will follow! 


    Since 2009, Visit Philly has been writing “letters” to all kinds of people, places & things. Signed, “With Love, Philadelphia XOXO” the entire campaign has been one of our favorites in recent memory. There have been several perfectly timed letters, but just one example is this snarky ad poking fun at the reality TV show “Jersey Shore.” It’s a great example of an adaptable campaign that can immediately respond to anything happening in pop culture.

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    And don’t think this only works for television references. Music can also be a great jumping off point for marketing material. You have probably heard the song Oklahoma from the musical of the same name. If you’re really lucky, you may have starred in this musical in high school. Either way, it’s probably the most recognizable thing associated with the state. This ad, which was released in 2013 and has over 2 million views on YouTube, took an old, familiar song and made it new again.


    Last modified on Tuesday, 06 January 2015 16:05

    1 comment

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